Monthly Archives: May 2011

Good questions outrank easy answers

Good questions outrank easy answers – Quote by Paul Samuelson

Understanding the real situation in any circumstance needs information and insight. These are usually obtained by asking the right questions!

Most people underrate the power of effective questions and fail to appreciate the skills needed to actually ask the right questions or the right person in the right way to elicit accurate information. Questions can change perceptions, tap into selective memories and effectively change the recollections of the person being asked for information. This is as true of the questions you ask yourself as it is of the questions you ask other people. Our White Paper 1012: Active Listening discusses some of the key skills required for effective questioning. Now a new publication from the APM provides a structured set of questions to make sure you understand your project.

The Lens Collective – A Guide to Seeing Different Perspectives in Project Management is a very interesting publication from the Association for Project Management designed to help you ask the right questions.

The eleven ‘lenses’ in the collective are a series of carefully framed questions, each focused on a specific aspect of project management, designed to probe the latent power of people and enable higher levels of self-awareness (provided you take an open-minded approach to answering the challenging questions).

An example is ‘Lens 5’ focused on project planning.

The Summary question is: “What questions do I need to ask in order to understand and achieve success through effective project planning?”

There are four focus questions within this ‘lens’, the first is: “Do I understand the critical elements of planning?”

To provide a comprehensive answer to this key question, there are twelve very specific sub-questions including:

  • Do I understand the purpose of planning?
  • Do I understand the totality of the planning process, the strategic nature of planning, stakeholder management and the production of documentation?
  • Are stakeholder expectations congruent with the initial planning process?
  • How will the project plan be communicated to the stakeholders?
  • Is the planning approach suitable for this project?

The second focus question in this section is: “How can I influence the project through effective planning?” and so on.

The Lens Collective has been designed to be universally applicable, regardless of the complexity of the project, programme or portfolio. You can choose to use the whole collective, or individual ‘lenses’ can be utilised wholly or partially at different times during the project or programme lifecycle. The questions can be answered individually as an aid to reflective learning or collaboratively to help build team understanding. For more information see:

PgMP Credential Update

As at the 1st January 2012 the PgMP exam will become much more difficult! The new exam reflects a substantial refinement to the role of a Program Management Professional. The current exam is focused on 5 domains (Defining, Initiating, Planning, Executing and Closing the Program) which will be assembled under new Domain 2 “Program Life Cycle” as sub-domains with new domains, 1, 3, 4 and 5 added. Out of the total of 72 tasks in the new exam, 26 are new or have major revisions, and another 26 have minor changes. The structure of the new exam is:

1. Strategic Program Management
2. Program Life Cycle
     • Defining the Program
     • Initiating the Program
     • Planning the Program
     • Executing the Program
     • Controlling the Program
     • Closing the Program
3. Benefits Management
4. Stakeholder Management
5. Governance

The good news is people who pass their PgMP under the current regime maintain their PgMP status after the 1st January. There is no requirement to re-sit or upgrade an existing credential.

So if you were thinking that obtaining your PgMP would be a good career enhancing move, the smart option would be to pass your exam this year! To find out more about the changes and the options for becoming a PgMP this year, see:

Perceptions Matter

The Australian Institute of Management and the Safety Institute of Australia have recently published a survey on the effectiveness of organisation’s occupational health and safety (OH&S) processes. The findings may be of value to another specialist area – project management!

Some of the key findings were:

  • 77% of CEOs and 56% of senior managers stated they put a ‘very high priority’ on workplace OH&S. Only 38% of OH&S personnel thought their organisation placed a ‘very high priority’.
  • 50% of CEOs said they strongly agreed their organisation had a well entrenched OH&S culture, only 18% of OH&S personnel agreed.
  • 88% of CEOs and 70% of senior managers said top level management ‘walked the talk’ when it came to OH&S but only 47% of OH&S staff agreed.

This intention of this post is not to focus on the OH&S practices and policies of organisations, rather to speculate on why there is such a significant difference between senior management perceptions and specialist management perceptions.

It would be too easy to pass off the difference simply based on senior management ‘saying the right thing’, unlike project management if there is a serious accident, senior managers are personally liable and can face substantial criminal and civil penalties. It I simply not in management’s interest to ignore or accept sub-standard OH&S practices, in many Australian States they can literally go to jail if there is a significant failure.

My feeling is the dramatic difference is driven by two key factors that overlap and support each other.

The first is differences in the degree of technical understanding. The OH&S expert’s know what is possible, needed and represents current best practice. General management would have been involved in direct supervision of workplaces probably 10 to 20 years ago; best practices and the law has changed dramatically in the intervening period. The senior managers may believe their organisations are doing well simply because they don’t know what best practice looks like from personal experience and involvement. The challenge is to educate senior management on best practice so they actually understand – how you fit this into a senior manager’s busy schedule is an interesting problem.

The second is appreciating the details. OH&S expert’s see all of the issues, problems and failings. They know what is not working! By the time information is summarised, sanitised and passed through several levels of middle management most of the nitty gritty nasties are filtered out and overall the organisation is shown to be doing OK. This filtering and summarisation process is a well recognised problem and was a primary cause of the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster; but again, how do you get the right information to executives without burying them in detail??

Now let’s look at our profession. Project Management is relatively new and has significant technical specialisations. Most executives have never worked as project managers or in a projectized workspace. Most project fail through a combination of small issues, problems and changes. There is not one big issue and most of the details are filtered out as information moves up the hierarchy. Rather then recognising the hidden systemic causes of failure, it is simpler to assume the people involved have failed and blame the project managers!!

Lastly, as with OH&S, effective project management requires the expenditure of resources to develop and maintain effective systems that prevent problems. But you cannot value the problems that don’t occur because you have effective systems! Any expenditure to improve systems has to be based on a belief the outlays deliver value, possibly backed up by some generic trend data. But to believe, you need to appreciate and understand the value; how can this be imparted to senior management???

Given OH&S has legislated conformance requirements and project management does not, it is quite likely your organisations executives believe the organisation is doing as good a job of managing its projects as they evidently believe they are doing with OH&S (and their perceptions are their reality). The challenge facing project management professionals is advising upwards to change these perceptions in a positive way. The key question is how?

The techniques of advising upwards are the focus of my new book, publication due in September (see more on the book) ).

Defining the message to be advised upwards is more complex:

  • Part of the answer is Cobbs Paradox (see the post )
  • Another aspect is valuing our processes (see the post)
  • The rest is likely to be a combination of persistence and performance.

What do you think?

A hidden gem

We have been in San Francisco for the last few days at the last PMI College of Scheduling conference before the organisation transitions into the PMI Scheduling Community of Practice. More of the learning will be in future posts. This post is to acknowledge a hidden gem…….

Buried in the bowels of the Fairmont Hotel (top of Nob Hill – venue of the conference) is the Hurricane Bar and Tonga Restaurant. If you are of a certain age (ie, over 40) it is a totally different evening with great entertainment and food!! Whilst I admit this post may be influenced by a ‘Bora Bora Horror’ (Rum, rum, banana liquor and rum with a bit of fruit juice….) or two, our ‘last night’ in SF was truly memorable.